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Archive for the ‘Sexual Exploitation of teens’ Category

Teenagers who run away are not “bad” individuals, however, they are clearly making bad decisions which puts their safety at significant risk.  I have worked with a lot of teens who have run away and their reasons for doing so are varied.  Some of the reasons teens have said they run away include:  not feeling like they belong in school or in their family, not feeling like anyone cares, trying to escape a dangerous situation (i.e. they are being abused or a caretaker is abusing substances), they are trying to let others know how much they are struggling, they were frustrated and felt like they did not have any freedom, they thought it would be fun and exciting, they thought a boyfriend / girlfriend or older peer would take care of them, they were using drugs or alcohol, they wanted to get out of a punishment and peer pressure.  This is only a sampling of reasons why teens may run away so you can see that there are a lot of reasons and regardless of the reason, running away can lead to very serious and dangerous situations for teenagers.

Once teenagers run away they become dependent on others for food and shelter.  Most teenagers are accustomed to having these basic necessities provided for them and have not thought their runaway plan through thoroughly.  Once teens realize they need a place to stay and need food they can begin making unsafe decisions.  Research shows that girls who run away are likely to be approached by a pimp looking to sexually exploit them within the first forty-eight hours of being on the run (see my blog post on this topic for more information about the sexual exploitation of teens).  Other teens may be approached by other individuals who appear to be very nice and caring but who are planning to use the teen to commit a crime, buy or sell drugs or engage in other activities which place them at risk.  Some teens become hungry pretty quickly (because they are not used to ever skipping a meal) and resort to stealing which can lead them to legal trouble.  Some teens become cold or scared and trespass as a means of finding shelter which can also lead them to legal trouble.  Many teens resort to hitchhiking because they have not thought their plan through and have no idea how to get anywhere without a parent to drive them.  I have worked with teenagers who have run away and after about twenty minutes realize they are scared or cold and return back home with an apology, however, I have also worked with teenagers who have faced some of the scenarios above which have caused them some pretty significant trauma and which have caused their parents indescribable stress, worry and heartbreak.

As a parent, there are some things you can do that may help prevent your teenager from running away.  You will notice that on the list below there is not anything about “giving in” to your teen or “buying off” your teenager.  It can be very dangerous if teenagers learn that they can play on their parent’s fear to get what they want.  In the beginning, this can be fun and feel good to teenagers, however, ultimately it makes them feel like you as the parent, are not in control which can feel scary for them.  So…if your teenager says, “If you don’t let me go to the all night party I am just going to take off” and you give into this demand, you are likely in for a very stressful, uphill battle with your teen who will continue to use this tactic to get what they want.  The tips below are suggestions, however, knowing your teenager will be critical in your deciding which tips may be most effective.

Tips For Parents Which May Help Prevent Your Teenager From Running Away: 

Educate your children about the dangerous of running away (before this becomes and issue for them).  Doing this can cut down on the fantasies that some teens have that running away will bring them freedom, excitement and a great life. 

Be consistent with your teenager.  This is often a struggle but it is extremely helpful when parents are consistent in both their expectations as well as the consequences for breaking the rules.  By having open conversations with your      children about your rules and consequences for breaking the rules, you reduce the likelihood that your teen will be shocked and overly emotional  (which can lead to drastic behaviors) when you set a limit or issue a consequence.

Allow your teen some control during times when you are not having a conflict.  This expands on tip #2.  It is a good idea to allow your teenager some control in setting the rules and expectations of the home (within reason of course) because then they are less able to argue these rules when they violate them.  Having your teen be a part of the process increases the chances they will follow the expectations you have set and if they don’t that they will accept the consequences of their actions.

Don’t allow your teenager to coerce  you by making threats.  As is stated above, don’t let your teenager’s threats to do something irresponsible or unsafe drive your decision-making.  Many teens will attempt this at some point however, if you stand your ground, they are likely to try this only a couple times or even just once before they realize it will not work.

Be clear about what the consequences are for your teen’s behavior.  To build upon tip #4, if your teenager says, “If you don’t let me go on the weekend trip I am going to take off and you will be sorry”, I  would suggest you say, “Well, that would be your decision which you know is against the rules.  You should also know that I will call the police and they will issue a warrant for your arrest as a runaway if you choose to make that decision”.  This puts the ball back in their court and the bonus is that it makes it hard for them to continue to argue because you are not telling them they can’t “take off”, you are simply informing them of the consequences of taking off.

Keep your teen connected as much as  possible.  As I have stated in other blogs, staying connected to your teen is a critical way of  avoiding a lot of problematic behaviors.  Ask about their day, show interest in what they like (even if you can’t stand their music or choice of movies), ask about their friends, ask them to be involved in dinners or choosing what they would like for dinner and make sure you talk to them about yourself as well.  This is not always received well by      teens, however by doing these things your teen will feel like you continue to take an interest in their life, which is very important to their self worth.

Don’t downplay behavioral changes you may notice.  As always, it is important for parents to notice changes in their teen.  A suspicion that they are involved in alcohol or drugs, being abused, with an older boyfriend / girlfriend, with a peer group that is involved in criminal activity or that they have significantly withdrawn from the family as well as from school are all  warning signs that they may run away.

If your teenager does run away, it is very important that you contact the police and file a report.  Even though this may seem embarrassing, it will be important in sending your teen a clear message about how you will respond to such behaviors as well as help keep them safe when they are making poor decisions.  If your teen runs away it is also helpful to call any family or friends who they may reach out to and alert them of the situation which may help you locate them sooner. This can be a very stressful and scary situation for a parent so as always, it is important that you have your own support during such difficult times.

For additional parenting support and tips, go to How To Parent A Teen or follow us on Twitter at @KarenParentTeen.

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Teenage sexual exploitation is a topic which is very difficult to read about but also one which is very important to understand and of which to be aware.  I have done extensive research on this topic and have been amazed at how many teenagers (mostly girls) are exploited through prostitution.  Learning a bit about this subject can be useful for parents since girls recruited into prostitution can come from anywhere and from any type of family.

Although exact numbers are not clear, it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 teenagers in the United States who are being exploited through prostitution.  Many believe these numbers are much higher.  The average age at which a girl enters prostitution is 14 years old – this age appears to be dropping and there have been reports of girls as young as age 6 being exploited through prostitution.  There is not one single factor which makes a teenage girl vulnerable to be recruited into the life of prostitution, however, there are certain factors which are believed to increase one’s risk.  These include:  coming from a broken home, a history of abuse, having a mother who is promiscuous, poor relationship with parents, truancy and a history of running away which is the biggest factor which can lead to one becoming involved in the life of prostitution.  Two thirds of girls who run away are exploited by prostitution and girls who run away are likely to be approached by a pimp within forty-eight hours of being on the run.  That is just plain scary to think about.

In short, low self-esteem combined with a lack of guidance and support from adults makes girls vulnerable to being recruited into the life of prostitution.  Many people ask, “How does this happen?  Why would a girl do this?”  Through my research, I have come to understand how it happens and why it so easily happens for many teenage girls.  Pimps are well-trained at the process and can easily detect a teenage girl who may be vulnerable.  Some things they look for are girls alone at bus stations, at malls, at skating rinks or girls living in group home settings and of course – girls who have run away from home.  Pimps today are often young, hip and appear to have a lot of money which is appealing to young girls.  Initially pimps show an interest in a young girl, making her feel special.  Often times the girls approached have low self-esteem and are flattered that a “cool male” is paying attention to them and wants to take care of them.  Girls quickly become enamored and dependent on the pimp who may buy them food, gifts and provide them with a place to live along with promises of a loving and wonderful future.  Once the teenage girl falls in love with the pimp he may tell her he is having money trouble because of how much money he has been spending on her and that he needs her to do something for money – just one time – and then they will be able to live the happy life they want to live.  Reluctantly, teenage girls will do what the pimp says because they so desperately want to have the fairy tale life that has been promised to them and want to please him.  After “turning their first trick”, the pimp will tell the girl she is dirty, unwanted and that nobody will ever want to be with her because of what she did.  This causes the girl to become desperate and willing to do anything the pimp wants to regain his affection again which only brings her deeper into the life of sexual exploitation.  At this point, a pimp may introduce drugs to the teenage girl which makes her even further dependent on him and willing to do whatever he wants.  Many young girls hang onto the idea that they can get rich if they just sell themselves for a little while, however, the reality is that the pimps take ALL the money which makes the girls completely dependant on them for everything.  The other reality is that they are being sexually exploited as children by these pimps who often get away with this crime over and over because the girls they exploit are so ashamed and scared that they don’t want to speak up or don’t think they have a right to speak up.

What is so sad about this form of child abuse / exploitation is that there is so much shame attached that the teenage girls find it very difficult to leave the life of prostitution because they don’t want others to know what they have been doing.   Pimps brainwash girls into thinking they are not valuable to anyone outside the life of prostitution which further isolates them.  They don’t see themselves as victims but rather has worthless and dirty individuals who nobody will ever truly love.  They reality is that they are being exploited – it is child abuse, however, it is often not seen as such.

The best way to help young girls at risk is through education and prevention.  Parents should talk to their girls about what to do if someone approaches them and tries to befriend them through gifts and excessive compliments.  Parents should also notice if their daughter seems to be bringing home a lot of new clothes, gifts or jewelry.  Don’t ignore this – be persistent in finding out where the items are coming from.  Finally, if you have a daughter who is running away, she is at the most risk.  It is important to talk to her if you are able and if not, to find someone who can.  Girls who understand the grooming process are much more likely to avoid being sexually exploited because they will see the warning signs and will be less likely to believe that a pimp is truly interested in having a loving relationship with them. 

I have worked with some of the most at risk girls – many who have been approached by pimps and many who have engaged in prostitution because they did not understand what was happening until it was too late.  It is scary how good pimpsare at what they do and how trapped young girls feel once recruited into prostitution.  The damage is unimaginable as you may guess and nothing any young girl should have to endure.  As stated above, education is the best way of preventing this form of exploitation.

If you have a child who is running away and placing themselves at risk, it is important that you, as the parent, get support.  You may seek support through a coach, through a mental health professional or perhaps through a school support.  What is important is that you don’t have to deal with these difficult issues on your own and you deserve your own support so that you can be most helpful to your child.

For additional parenting support, tips and advice, go to How To Parent A Teen or Like us on our Facebook Fan Page to get your free report that outlines 3 strategies for getting teenagers to act more responsibly PLUS 3 strategies for managing your teenager’s unpredictable moods more effectively. 

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